Knowing how different kinds of sex can pass on STIs (sexually transmitted infections, also known as STDs) can help you decide when you should get tested. Testing is important because many STIs don’t have any symptoms. Many people also worry about STIs when there’s very little chance they have them. In this article, we’ll talk about what’s less safe and how to lower your risks for STIs.
When should I get tested?
It’s a good idea to get tested if you’ve had oral, vaginal, or anal sex without a barrier. Barriers include condoms and dental dams (a square of latex you hold between a mouth and a vagina or anus to make oral sex safer). If you’ve had any of these types of sex, you have some risk for STIs. You can help stay healthy by getting tested 3 weeks after and again after 3 months.
Beyond this, your risk depends on the type of STI you’re worried about and the kinds of sex you’re having. Bacterial infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia are some of the most common. Anal, vaginal, and oral sex without a condom or dental dam have a high risk of passing on bacterial infections.
The risk of viruses that spread from skin to skin (like HPV and herpes) are also a high risk for all of these types of sex.
Other viruses like HIV or Hepatitis C transfer to the bloodstream from injections or mucus membranes like the vagina, penis, or anus. There is a lower risk of transmission from oral sex.
And parasitic infections like crabs are mostly from contact between private parts. Using condoms or dental dams is the best way to reduce your risk of STIs. However, there is still a chance you can get an STI even if you use barriers.
Are there risks of STIs if I use a condom?
There is still some risks of STIs even if you use a condom or dental dam. Condoms and dental dams lower the risk for viruses that are spread through the skin, like HPV (genital warts) and herpes. But there is still a chance they can spread through parts that aren’t covered.
There is also a risk the condom or dam will break. You can look at the steps for using a condom and see what you can do to make breaking less likely. If it does break, you will be able to tell, and you can get tested after.
What about getting an STI from toilet seats? Or from fluids like semen?
If you’re not having sex or sharing needles, there’s a very low risk you could have an STI. You can’t get them from toilet seats. There’s only a minimal risk for passing STIs from holding hands.
Hep C is passed through blood, and it can live on toothbrushes, razors, and needles for a few days. So you can lower your risk by avoiding sharing these. Gonorrhea and syphilis can live in your throat, and herpes and HPV can pass through skin. So there is also some risk from light to deep kissing.
Skin is very tough, so there’s little risk from semen, vaginal fluid, saliva, or blood getting on healthy skin. The risk is higher when these fluids touch your genitals (anus, vagina, or penis) or the mouth. It’s also really unlikely that they will pass through clothes, even if any of them get on underwear.
While this may sound scary, there’s a lot you can do to lower your risk a lot. By using condoms and dental dams correctly, your risk for most STIs goes far down. ‘Risk’ is just a word to help you understand what might happen. This can help you make choices that are right for you and your body. Using this information, you can always choose what you want to do and not do for your health.
FAQ on testing
Scarleteen’s article discussing frequently asked questions about STI testing as well as describing the testing procedures for many STIs.
Can I get Pregnant, or Get or Pass and STI from That? – Scarleteen
A quick list of sexual activities, and their risk level for pregnancy and different STIs. Also includes information on safer sex, things to do before sex to make it safer, and ways to reduce your risk after the fact, such as the morning after pill.
How Long Should I Wait for STI Testing?
A look at the different types of STI testing, how they work and the importance of talking about it with your sexual partner.